End of an ‘Era’

From a thriving customer base in the US and Europe, Kashmir’s last indigenous musical instruments maker, Ghulam Muhammad Zaz, is fast slipping into oblivion. He, however, is not upset about it. A decision to spare the younger generation, the sufferings of being a craftsman is all set to mark the end of an era. Syed Asma, profiles the journey


It takes a jiffy to locate him in his area. Ghulam Muhammed Zaz, a craftsman making Kashmir’s indigenous musical instruments is a famous man in his locality and in a particular set of elites, artists, who understand music. He has been working with music maestros like Shiv Kumar and Bhajan Rustum Sopori. They have helped him to generate a huge customer base in America, London and Germany.

Ghulam Mohammed shares the lineage of a family, Zaz, who have always been associated with different crafts.

He does not remember who in their (extended) family has started it but says he has always seen his family practising this job. “My grandfather, father and uncle always mentioned our ancestors making musical instruments. I have never heard them saying we were into any other job.”

“We never bothered about government jobs or didn’t even establish any business. We loved it like one loves his children but now it has lost its charm,” he says. He has consciously taken the decision of not passing the legacy forward as it is not fetching him much. “Why would I ditch a family and make them suffer as I did, while my children were growing up.”

Ghulam Mohammed has three daughters and all are married. He shows contentment but had to struggle a lot for survival.

Besides, he is upset with the downfall in the market demand of his products. A craftsman who was once busy the whole year satisfying his customers rarely gets an order now.

Rarely visiting his workshop he prefers to stay home these days and likes to spend time with his nine months old grandson, Saadat.

Pointing towards Saadat he says he was this old when his grandfather used to take him along.

Though he started accompanying his grandfather when he was just a year old but professionally started crafting independently in his early twenties, he says while pointing towards a corner in his workshop, “that was supposed to be my place.”

But after his father passed away he started sitting at his place, probably the only clean patch present in the room. The rest of the room is filled with trash, tools, wooden planks, an old Santoor and a broken Sarangi.

Sitting in the workshop Ghulam Mohammed still remembers how he used to accompany his elders to the workshop. A few steps away from their residence, located in old city on the banks of river Jhelum their workshop is a wooden structure sandwiched between two concrete edifices. A broken wooden door leads way to an unsymmetrical staircase. The room would not be more than 100 Square Feet. Small windows, four of them, covered with transparent polythene are the only source of light in the room.

The room has never been renovated, Ghulam Mohammed shares. The only change they have bought is its ceiling. It was recently covered with thick black polythene as the rains and snow was taking its toll. “It is the room that gave us everything – name, fame, money, respect.” He introduces the room with a big smile which makes his eyes twinkle.

Otherwise an introvert, Ghulam Mohammed started talking frankly for some time after entering the workshop.

“It’s (the room) older than me,” laughs the 70 years old.

His family had learnt the art of making and repairing Kashmir’s musical instruments from Santoor to Sarangi to Taaoos to Saaz-e-Kashmiri to Dilruba to Saitaar, many of which are now extinct and do not exist anymore.

It is hard to find a family in Kashmir who were not artists and did not know a craft, says Ghulam Mohammed. He, for generations, has learnt and practiced the craft but now does not want his family to continue.

Sounding very confident about his decision of not continuing the legacy he says, “I don’t regret the extinction of this craft. It does not make me upset, it is a natural phenomenon!”

“There would have been many craftsmen before me whose name doesn’t exist anymore; we would be one of them. How does it matter,” he concludes with a straight?

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